Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

sionally pick up a child in the woods, and instances are by no means wanting of their attacking even grown-up men when the weather is very severe. These misfortunes occasionally happen in the neighbourhood of Petersburg, where the wolves are extremely numerous and very daring. At the countryhouse of a near relation of M—'s, about twelve miles from Petersburg, a man was, a year or two ago, attacked in the garden by a single wolf and severely wounded, escaping with difficulty with his life. The same place was the scene of another curious wolf-adventure. A disturbance was heard at night outside the house among the dogs. Several people went out to see what was the matter, but, discovering nothing, though they supposed that a wolf had been there, they came back into the house. Presently, however, they missed one of the servants, a lad of eighteen, who had been one of the first to sally forth. As he did not return, they became alarmed, and, going out again with lanterns to search for him, they were not long before they found him stretched on the ground, apparently dead, with a wolf lying by his side. The young man, happily, was only in a swoon, and he soon recovered on being raised up, but the wolf was dead. As soon as the youth was able to give an account of himself, it appeared that, on the first alarm, he had run out of the house with a large stick in his hand, and had been immediately attacked by the wolf. This so terrified him that, aiming, in his fright, one instinctive blow at his enemy, he fell down in the senseless state in which he was found. The single blow of his heavy stick had, by an extraordinary accident, hit the wolf on the head and had killed him.

When seven or eight of these animals are collected together in the winter, they are often sufficiently dangerous; and a single wolf, on meeting a man in a lonely place, will sometimes commence howling, until his friends around assemble in sufficient numbers to venture on the attack. They will occasionally even assail travellers on the high road. A friend of mine tells me that once, between Moscow and Petersburg, as he was journeying in an open sledge, it being excessively cold, he was pursued for some miles by a pack of wolves which ran by the side of the sledge, racing “ with their hard gallop"

against the frightened horses at full speed, and pressing them So closely, that my friend's valet, who was sitting by his side, stabbed at the brutes with a dagger and wounded some of them as they tried to jump into the sledge. The wolves did not give up the pursuit till they met a long string of sledges, which compelled them to retire.

The wolf prefers living in small brushwood covers, near a village, to inhabiting the large forests. These however are the fastnesses of his race; and the existence of these immense tracts of wood and desert in Russia would, perhaps, defeat any attempt to rid the country entirely of those ferocious beasts; though it is difficult to believe that such a pest might not be in some measure put down if exertions were systematically made. Without combination the thing is impossible; and at present, in most parts of the country, the wolves are rarely molested. Indeed the peasants often have a prejudice against so doing, as they think it only exasperates the animals, and makes them more fierce and dangerous. Owing to this most absurd notion, the wolves in many places are suffered to become daring by impunity, and they often venture to show themselves in broad daylight, though I have never seen one myself since I have been in the country.

There are various ways of destroying wolves. Sometimes this is done by poison, the best being nux vomica, which does not, like arsenic, injure the fur. This is a matter of some consideration, since a wolf's skin raw is worth from eight to ten shillings. To use the nux vomica, a calf or other dead animal is well impregnated with the poison, and then laid in a retired spot in a wood, where the wolves find the flesh and feast on it. The effect of the poison is very rapid. I have heard of six wolves being destroyed in this maner in one place and in one night. Four were found dead on the spot, and two others were discovered afterwards at a little distance.

The Russians sometimes catch these animals in pitfalls, placing a live lamb or a pig as a bait on the top of a post rising out of the pit. They have also a kind of trap, which is exceedingly simple, but of which I never heard before I came into the country. A small circle is enclosed with a palisade or other fence, made too high for a wolf to leap or

the

climb over. This fence is again surrounded by another of the same kind, leaving a narrow space between the two; and the outer fence has a door, which opens inwards, so as to fill up when open

between the two palisades. A lamb or a pig is placed at night in the inner circle, and, being alone, cold, and restless, it does not suffer in silence. The noise it makes attracts the wolf, who pushes open the door of the outer paling, and, finding the inner fence still between him and his prey, prowls round it in hopes of discovering an opening. When, having made the circuit of the place, he again reaches the door, he presses against it, and, thus shutting it to, he imprisons himself ; for the space in which he is being narrow, and the backbone of a wolf being very inflexible, he cannot turn. The door is, of course, so hung as to shut from a very light pressure.

space

Another mode of destroying wolves is by shooting them on a moonlight night in winter. Two or three sportsmen place themselves in a sledge, with active horses, and are driven through the roads and tracts in the woods. In addition to the necessary supply of arms and ammunition they provide themselves with a lively young pig, and with a long rope to trail behind the sledge, with a wisp of straw at the end. go along, they pull the ears of the pig from time to time, an insult which it loudly resents in the language of its race. The wolf, hearing the complaints of the pig, and seeing the bundle of straw dancing along over the snow in the moonlight, makes a dash at the latter; mistaking it for its prey, and thus presenting a fair mark to the gunners in the sledge. Sometimes in the pursuit of this sport the disappointment is incurred of a blank night. Sometimes, on the other hand, too much game is started, and the amusement becomes somewhat dangerous. If the wolves are too numerous, and the shooters have not time to pick up those they kill, the other wolves will tear the bodies of their dead companions, and, becoming furious, will attack the sledges. A neighbour, whom we often see, met with an adventure of this kind a few years ago. After making his pig squeal for some hours in vain, he at length unexpectedly attracted such a troop of wolves that he was obliged to fly, and trust to his horses' speed to

As they

save his life. He thus escaped, but he was pursued by twelve or fourteen of the ferocious beasts into the middle of this village.

The peasants sometimes build a hut in a wood, and throw the carcases of dead horses and other animals near the spot to attract the wolves. They then go before nightfall, and ensconce themselves in the hut, in hopes of getting a shot through one of the loopholes which they leave in the walls of their castle. Unless, however, they build the hut very firmly and securely, they run considerable risk. I have been told a story of a man whose baits drew around him one night an unusual number of wolves. He kept firing away from his lurking-place, killing, wounding, and missing, till he had expended all his ammunition ; but he was still surrounded by enemies, who, becoming infuriated, attacked his fortress, and tried to force an entrance. The garrison was unarmed, but the building was strong and resisted the assault. The wolves attempted to mine and work a way under the walls, but strong stakes, which had been providently driven in on every side, frustrated their endeavours: so at length the besiegers changed their tactics, and converted the assault into a close blockade, hoping to starve out the enemy. Through whichever of his loopholes the poor man looked out, his eyes now encountered those of a wolf seated like a dog on his haunches, and keeping patient watch. When morning came he expected these sentinels to depart; but no, they were far too inveterate ; some went away, but some still remained, and a close guard was kept all day. Throughout the whole of the next night he was imprisoned; and it was not till the following day that he was released, either by the wolves getting tired of waiting, or by his friends at last coming to the rescue.

Bears, though they abound in Russia, are not to be met with, like wolves, in every part of the country. There are indeed numerous districts in which they are never heard of, for they shun cultivation and human dwellings, and they are only to be found in deep and extensive forests.

In some of those places where bears abound, there are men who make it their business in the winter to go in pursuit of them alone, and armed only with a strong knife and a spear;

with which implements, by courage and dexterity, they succeed in destroying these dangerous animals.

Many years ago an English or Scotch gentleman, who was settled in this country and who was a great sportsman, was shooting small game in the woods in the north of Russia, when he heard the snoring of an animal, and, looking round, after a little while he discovered head of an enormous bear sleeping. Having only small shot in his gun, he retreated quietly, breaking the twigs as he went, in order that he might be able to find the spot again. He then made the best of his way

to his temporary sporting residence, a small cottage not far off, and proceeded immediately to cast a few leaden balls. As soon as he was thus provided, he with some difficulty induced a peasant to accompany him, with an axe and a dog, to the spot where he had left the bear. The noise he made in approaching roused the animal, but, as it raised its head, the sportsman fired and killed it at a single shot. He called out in triumph to his attendant, who had kept at a respectful distance; but in the middle of his exultation a second bear came forth from behind the first. Taken as he was by surprise, he immediately fired his second barrel and broke the animal's leg; when, lo! from the same prolific lair, a third bear appeared on the scene. The dog now came up and diverted its attention, while our hero took to his heels and ran away; retreating, nevertheless, only to reload his gun, and, as soon as he had accomplished this necessary operation, gallantly returning to the charge. He now killed with his first barrel the third bear, which was still engaged with the dog, and with his second the wounded animal; having thus, single-handed, killed three bears in four shots. The peasant, as soon as he saw that they were undeniably dead, ventured forward for the first time, and began most valiantly to hack with his axe at the fallen foe.

The large bear was the dam, and, as I am assured, an enormous beast, the two others being cubs of a year old, quite strong enough to be dangerous.

In the government of Novogorod, which abounds in forests and is much infested by these animals, the peasants have, they say, a most singular method of ridding themselves of their disagreeable neighbours.

I

« ForrigeFortsett »